Commentary

Gabe Kapler signals a new way, but the jury is out

After weeks of speculation, opinion, rumor milling and, finally, a little clarity, the Phillies have a new manager. Gabe Kapler will reportedly be running the show in the clubhouse in 2018.

The poor man’s explainer on Gabe Kapler is relatively straightforward: He’s an outside-the-box selection, an analytics and sports science wonk who fits nicely with the new approach driven by the Phillies’ front office. And that explainer has allowed everyone – from paid pundits to fans on social media – to sound off their opinions on the move. Some say Kapler is going to be a puppet for General Manager Matt Klentak. Others say his relative inexperience in the dugout means he’s cheap, proving the Phils’ ownership’s prudence. Some like Kapler. Others not so much. Some are wondering why the choice wasn’t Dusty Wathan, the longtime farm system manager who has helped develop nearly everyone on the current 40-man roster.

The narratives are already building, which in Philadelphia can be a dangerous thing. Moreover, the narratives are just plain dumb.

Let’s start with the fact that Kapler is not an outside-the-box selection. He’s a former major league player, a fourth outfielder type who won a ring with the 2004 Red Sox. He has previously managed; he was the helm of the 2007 class-A Greenvile Drive, which finished 58-81. Moreover, he’s a white male. If the Phillies went “outside the box,” they would’ve hired a non-white manager, or hell, maybe a woman. But they didn’t do that. A white male former player with managerial experience is not outside the box.

Plus, Kapler isn’t outside the box if you’re looking closely at what the Phillies are becoming. Gone are the days when a general manager was a silent pencil pusher and the manager, instead, was the man leading the boys into battle. Today’s big league environment is such that front offices have much louder input about the day-to-day management of the club. Klentak, a young executive making his first major hire, chose in Kapler someone with aligned thoughts about the direction of the game, a manager who can communicate to players how the organization is educating and evaluating them.

The new Phillies

So, yes, sports science is emphasized. And what that means is, more specifically, Kapler will work with players on constantly thinking about how to achieve the best results in their physical and mental workouts. Everything from what players wear to what they eat will probably be considered. Just as important, you’ll probably hear more about sports psychologists working with the Phillies. Kapler has been known to be a stout communicator, someone who can get ballplayers to think in new ways. One would surmise that communication and mental health will be important considerations of the new regime.

Then there’s analytics. From what we’ve read, Kapler is a fan of analytics, and more specifically of using the tools of sabermetrics to analyze performance. He’ll certainly consider data in his role as manager. Will he be a robot only capable of reciting statistics? Probably not. But be sure that Kapler will be talking more about sabermetrics than Pete Mackanin.

And a lot of this is coming from up high, because baseball teams are – more than ever – being run like corporations. The executives have ideas on how their organizations should be operated, so they’ll bring in managers they feel can execute their ideas, arming them with the tools necessary to succeed. Kapler, in this case, is the ideal manager for what Klentak has been promoting.

Whether you think it’s right or wrong – right now – depends on what narrative you’re already spinning. Maybe you have an aversion to young executives. Maybe you think data and analytics can’t replace on-field experience. Maybe the phrase “sports science” makes you cringe.

Comparison game

The new narrative that started, almost immediately after the news of Kapler’s hiring, is that this guy feels too much like Chip Kelly. The former Eagles head coach was a sports science disciple, turning the NovaCare facility into an expanded smoothie shop where he monitored literally everything his players did so that they could be prepared to last longer than opponents. That, plus his high-powered, lightning-quick offense, certainly helped to boost the Eagles into a division winner in Kelly’s first year.

Remember, we were all huge Kelly fans in that first year.

It was only when Kelly also took over football operations that things went quickly haywire and our opinions began to sour. But Kelly was his own man in his own scenario in an entirely different sport. Running a football team is very different from running a baseball team.

Some have also already compared Kapler to Sam Hinkie, erstwhile general manager of the 76ers, who flipped the organization on its head in an effort to set it up for maximum optionality with assets and future prospects. Again, very different man and scenario. Of course, Kapler isn’t running baseball operations here. Plus, he’ll be carrying out Klentak’s gameplan as much as managing his team. Maybe Kapler says some of the same things as Hinkie, but that just means that he’s a creative thinker.

But that’s how narratives work. We’re going to opine about this hiring for a while, comparing Kapler to a variety of other managers and executives until, at some point, time reveals the truth of this hiring.

And that will be tied to Klentak, because this is his big hire, the one that could make or break his entire tenure in Philadelphia. Today Klentak and the front office are saying Gabe Kapler is the right man for them and for this new era of Phillies baseball.

Only time – not a narrative – will tell if that’s true.

***

Listen to this week’s Phillies Nation Podcast, as we talk about Kapler (as the news breaks!)

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Chris Sandone

    October 30, 2017 at 10:24 am

    I have one word for this hire “Bullshit”!

  2. Matt

    October 30, 2017 at 10:51 am

    “…he’s a white male. If the Phillies went “outside the box,” they would’ve hired a non-white manager, or hell, maybe a woman. But they didn’t do that. A white male former player with managerial experience is not outside the box.”

    This is a totally asinine statement. If the Phillies hired Fredi Gonzalez, who is Cuban, it still would have been a perfectly in-the-the box hire. If they indeed hired Chip Kelly, a white male, then that is outside the box. The point is–the racial or gender identity of the manager has absolutely nothing to do with the hire, the search, or whether it’s in or out of the box.

    • Tim Malcolm

      October 30, 2017 at 11:02 am

      Sure it does, for me.

  3. denzen

    October 30, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    Wasn’t he on the TV show, Welcome Back Kotter.?

  4. Craig Glessner

    October 30, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    I hope he can last longer as a coach in one place than he did as a player. In 12 years his longest stint with one team was 3 years. He was drafted in the 57th round they only have 50 rounds now. Good luck Gabe I don’t want to bash the guy I hope he turns into a Tony Larussa. Who knows you all may be kissing his butt when we win the series. All you can do is support him he’s a Philly now

    • schmenkman

      October 30, 2017 at 3:37 pm

      Turning a 57th round selection into a 12-year career must be an extremely rare feat, and if that’s any indication of how he exceeds expectations, it’s a very good sign!

  5. Eddie

    October 30, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    The only aversion I have is to losing. 58-81? Hmmm…

  6. Dan

    October 30, 2017 at 4:20 pm

    Malcolm, why do you always have to go for the identity politics nonsense? Weren’t you the one saying the time had come for the Phillies to dissociate from Mike Schmidt because you thought he violated the PC culture’s “speech codes”?

    • Tim Malcolm

      October 30, 2017 at 4:24 pm

      Identity politics isn’t nonsense. Also I just said that when people were saying Kapler is “outside the box,” he’s not really outside the box. So much more is outside the box.

      And yes, I did write about Schmidt’s unfortunate comments. Glad you remembered.

      • GB001

        October 31, 2017 at 12:40 am

        No, but identity politics is a tool of division for politicians for social gerrymandering to optimize votes. By both sides. The best person for the job is the best person for the job, regardless of race or whatever. Period. Please leave this unfortunate political tactic out of this sports blog, or I’ll have to move elsewhere for my nonsense Phils speculation.

        • Jeff Orbach

          November 1, 2017 at 10:12 am

          Agreed-Whoever helps the Phillies win is who I want to be in charge. Enough with the PC bull.

          I used to be involved in politics and i follow sports to get away from it. So don’t let politics pollute our Phillies discussion.

  7. Keg

    October 30, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    I have no problem with Klentak, I mean Kapler, as the new manager. It wasn’t his hiring that bugs me; it’s that a proven winner who knows how to coach in a big market was out there, and we didn’t even interview him. When he’s the Braves manager in a year, and they start winning again, we are all going to be very unhappy. Go Phillies!

  8. Ken Bland

    October 30, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    I suspect this is an excellent hire. Suspect is the appropriate word, lack of direct experience being what it is. But GK is most definitely an accomplished winner in the walks of life he’s travelled. Still, it’s largely up to the players. Kudos to management for what I am confident will be a great asset to the organization.

    Side note…tremendous video of Mike Trout at the Birds game yesterday.

  9. bruce

    October 31, 2017 at 12:21 am

    I have expressed my disappointment in an earlier post on the GM’s choice. I had hope that Dusty Wathan would be the right choice because of his managerial experience, his knowledge of on-field game strategy and his relationship with the young players on the Phillies team. I’ll reserve my judgement on Kapler till I have a better picture of his managerial ability in the BIG league regardless of his one brief year of managing in the low minors.
    I just hope we do not have another version of Ryne Sandberg and his lack of communication with the players.

    • Justin McElroy

      October 31, 2017 at 6:27 am

      Looking at his website leaves me to believe that he’s more likely the anti-Sandberg.

      http://kaplifestyle.com/

      • Ken Bland

        October 31, 2017 at 7:47 pm

        Thx for the post, Justin. This is TB12’s lucky week. First, Jimmy G gets shipped out, and now Gabe K has less time to tend to his seemingly blossoming website that at quick glance, is at least somewhat comparable to the Brady conditioning mode. One thing for sure. Managers now might be more into analytics than ever, but even more so conditioning. Not too many beer bellies in the dugout compared to the old days. Some, mind you, but far less.

        Girardi would have been cool, but oh, well.

        • loupossehl

          October 31, 2017 at 8:38 pm

          I wonder how John Kruk and Matt Stairs would have fared under the new regimen. Last time I checked, those guys weren’t exactly poster children for sports science and nutrition – it’s just that they could flat-out hit. Give me runners on base and a guy like Kruk stepping up to bat – I’m more than fine with that, even if Kruk was munching cheeseburgers in the batter’s circle.

          I do like the emphasis on analytics, and there’s a lot to be said for discipline and fitness. And I like a guy like Kapler in the organization … but I wonder if he’s more suited to be upstairs somewhere, and whether nutrition, etc., could be over-emphasized to the point of turning our young guys off.

          I sure hope not. This strikes me as quite a roll of the dice by Klentak.

          • Ken Bland

            November 1, 2017 at 1:23 pm

            That’s not unfair. But regarding Stairs, who most would say did a great job here, the club’s decision to allow the coaches to shop might be Klentak’s real roll of the dice. In the Stairs case. Wouldn’t have been the first time a team kept a, or more coaches pending hiring of the skipper. Seems Washington, for one, had Maddux in place before they hired Dusty. How Kapler and Stairs would have shared dinners after games, who knows. The sports nutrition thing is certainly a factor, would be free agents may or may not take to it. But there’s a lot of time to focus on it if people choose to. Right now, to me, it’s just good fodder if one is looking to be cautious or negative. Main thing I’m focused on is who Kapler puts together for a coaching staff. Selected names should quiet the nutrition thing as its a less than major thing, although as I said, it’s a factor.

  10. Jeff Orbach

    November 1, 2017 at 10:17 am

    I think Kapler will work out fine as we have many young players. However if we somehow got Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton and they loved stuffing their respective faces with junk food, I would hope he would have enough sense to not get into a major kerfuffle over it.

    • Ken Bland

      November 1, 2017 at 1:30 pm

      I need to start using that kerfuffle word as part of my everyday vocab. Never heard it before. Rock solid learning experience. Thanks!

      • Jeffrey Orbach

        November 4, 2017 at 1:55 pm

        lol-I watch old movies on TCM-I hear it in some of them.

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